The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World

The Courtier and the Heretic Leibniz Spinoza the Fate of God in the Modern World From Publisher s Weekly Starred Review According to Nietzsche Every great philosophy is a personal confession of its creator and a kind of involuntary and unperceived memoir Stewart affirms this maxi

  • Title: The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World
  • Author: Matthew Stewart
  • ISBN: 9780393329179
  • Page: 328
  • Format: Paperback
  • From Publisher s Weekly Starred Review According to Nietzsche, Every great philosophy is a personal confession of its creator and a kind of involuntary and unperceived memoir Stewart affirms this maxim in his colorful reinterpretation of the lives and works of 17th century philosophers Spinoza and Leibniz In November 1676, the foppish courtier Leibniz, the ultiFrom Publisher s Weekly Starred Review According to Nietzsche, Every great philosophy is a personal confession of its creator and a kind of involuntary and unperceived memoir Stewart affirms this maxim in his colorful reinterpretation of the lives and works of 17th century philosophers Spinoza and Leibniz In November 1676, the foppish courtier Leibniz, the ultimate insider an orthodox Lutheran from conservative Germany, journeyed to The Hague to visit the self sufficient, freethinking Spinoza, a double exile an apostate Jew from licentious Holland A prodigious polymath, Leibniz understood Spinoza s insight that science was in the process of rendering the God of revelation obsolete that it had already undermined the special place of the human individual in nature Spinoza embraced this new world Seeing the orthodox God as a prop for theocratic tyranny, he articulated the basic theory for the modern secular state Leibniz, on the other hand, spent the rest of his life championing God and theocracy like a defense lawyer defending a client he knows is guilty He elaborated a metaphysics that was, at bottom, a reaction to Spinoza and collapses into Spinozism, as Stewart deftly shows For Stewart, Leibniz s reaction to Spinoza and modernity set the tone for the dominant form of modern philosophy a category that includes Kant, Hegel, Bergson, Heidegger and the whole postmodern project of deconstructing the phallogocentric tradition of western thought Readers of philosophy may find much to disagree with in these arguments, but Stewart s wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read.

    One thought on “The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World”

    1. Matthew Stewart reminds us every few pages that Spinoza and Leibniz met in Holland during 1676. We are also informed that the world of their meeting was one of turmoil. The Reformation left Europe disenchanted, literally removing the catholic magic out of life and leaving everyone scurrying to a camp or church. Spinoza's ancestors had been expelled from Spain and Leibniz grew up in a Germany blackened by the Thirty Year War. Spinoza lived simply, distrusted the hordes and aimed for a life of the [...]

    2. Through the personal stories of the two well known philosophers, author Matthew Stuart provides a window on how medieval philosophy broke into modern. The difficulties for those ahead of their times is apparent: Gottfried Leibniz enjoyed public acclaim and status while Baruch Spinoza who dared break with convention was branded as a heretic. Both had had early experiences of rejection: Spinoza’s case was a complete expulsion from his community. In response, Spinoza made a simple living with the [...]

    3. The Courtier and the Heretic is a magnificent book that blends a remarkable depth of scholarship with good writing and a sensitivity for human beings, history and philosophy. Stewart’s telling of the portion of the history of modern philosophy having to do with Spinoza and Leibniz is interesting in a number of ways. Most striking, perhaps, is his identification of Spinoza as the first philosopher to truly appreciate the implications of modern science and the reformation for politics, religion [...]

    4. An entertaining and exceptionally well-written intellectual history, although as I've never read any Leibniz, I couldn't tell you much about how much I agree or disagree with Stewart's argument. However, I do know a fair bit about Spinoza and his place in the history of ideas, and Stewart gives him a fair shake, even if, like so many contemporary thinkers, he elevates Spinoza to damn near hierophantic status. As for the famed meeting in Den Haag, I can't say whether it had the world-changing sta [...]

    5. Too often philosophy is taught in the abstract, reflecting either a certain idealism on the part of the instructor or an ignorance of the history of the text and its author. As I.F. Stone did for Socrates, contextualizing Plato, so Stewart does for Leibnitz and Spinoza,.The focus of The Courtier and the Heretic is upon the relationship between the two philosophers who both corresponded and, during one brief period, conversed. Stewart's thesis is that Leibnitz' work was very much influenced by Sp [...]

    6. The book is not an easy read--it couldn't be as long as it aimed to explain the philosophy of the two principal antagonists. But I think he makes a good effort at clarity. Two things annoyed me--his sarcasm and his repetitive argument about Leibniz--they detract from a good book. His sarcasm can be funny as when he said of Leibniz: "he [Leibniz] was always more interested in creating a sensation than in having one.” 137 But it gets to be a distraction from the story and therefore an irritant. [...]

    7. Good, readable intro to the life and times of Spinoza and Leibniz. Short summary: Spinoza was a genius and lived a spartan life in the Netherlands eating rice gruel and grinding lenses. Leibiz was a genius but was in constant pursuit of money and recognition from famous patrons. They met each other once. The author argues that Leibniz's philosophy is best viewed as a reaction to Spinozism, which he was secretly attracted to and publicly repelled by.

    8. This isn't exactly a terrible book. Some of the notes I took while reading it may have been overly harsh.In 1676 two of the greatest philosophers of that or any other century met for a couple of days to talk God. The sole meeting of Leibniz and Spinoza could be the subject of a wonderful play, but it would require a great deal of artistic license by the playwright. No record exists of what they said, but we can bet it was a lot more interesting than David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace discussi [...]

    9. All the Spinoza bits were good. The Leibniz bits were so boring i ended up skimming those chapters completely. Should have just skipped them altogether. Spinoza is interesting enough w/o needing to contrast him with some character of the age. If the aim was to review the philosophical climate of the day, I'd have to say that it could have been done in a way that wasn't so dull. The presentation here of Leibniz himself I do feel is merely to have something to set Spinoza's thoughts in contrast w/ [...]

    10. This book is one of those that makes you stop, put it down, write things down, and start asking large questions about the nature of things. It's about a short meeting between two philosophers 400 years ago that can be seen as symbolic of the notion of the nature of God in the modern world. On one side, Spinoza argues that God is 'Nature' -- not a judging, bearded fellow who punishes us, but more like a Buddhist notion of the underlying architecture of everything. On the other side is Leibnitz, w [...]

    11. Steward writes in an incredibly accessible way. I’m even strongly considering having my 12-year old give it a go. One of my favorite quotes from this book was (and I am paraphrasing) “Humanity agrees on philosophy, it’s only grammar that we need to iron out.” I also found it an even more interesting read having read Voltaire’s Candide first. I wasn’t sure which philosopher it was in response to and now I know (Leibniz). I think I found it a little extra interesting because of that ba [...]

    12. If you like this review, please give me a helpful vote on - amazon/review/R16E9AAI am fascinated by the moments of serendipity in history, the crossing of historical paths in surprising and illuminating ways. For example, Ted Williams was John Glenn's wingman? I wouldn't have believed that in a historical novel, but it really happened. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and German Dictator Adolph Hitler were in the same class as teenagers, and there are class pictures to prove it? Well, why not?, [...]

    13. Dual biography of Leibniz and Spinoza, seemingly a worthy introduction to continental rationalism and the coincidences and divergences between these antagonistic philosophers. Leibniz is an amazing figure, towering over western intellectuals - regarded as having the highest IQ ever, inventor of calculus, a true prodigy and polymath, interested in everything, a successful politician, diplomat and legal theorist, among a host of other pursuits including synthesizing existing western philosophy, cr [...]

    14. This is a huge misrepresentation of the thought of Leibniz and even the philosophy of Spinoza. I count this book as a work of pure fiction, as it focuses more on the dead skeletons of each philosopher's thoughts than on their ideas as living, evolving things. Countless generations of people have equated Leibniz's thought to merely the metaphysics of the Monadology when this is in fact not the case. Moreover it is ridiculous to argue that a single meeting of less than a week had an overarching im [...]

    15. The twin strands of this book are the lives and thought of Spinoza and Leibniz, which knot in the middle at a 1676 meeting that had reverberations throughout the rest of Leibniz's long life (and seems to have had little effect on Spinoza in the few remaining months allotted to him). The prose of the book is lucid and engaging, and the author does a remarkable job of synthesizing biography, philosophy, history, and critical analysis to effectively tell the tale of the anxiety of influence felt by [...]

    16. Stewart tells the history of philosophy with a light touch that won't scare away those who aren't academically trained, and he's excellent at bringing alive those long since dead with rich attention to personal details and to historical contexts. The focus of the book is a meeting between Spinoza ("the heretic") and Leibniz ("the courtier"). Officially, Leibniz hated Spinoza; but Stewart argues that the clue to Leibniz's philosophy is the encounter with, and reaction against, Spinoza. Accordingl [...]

    17. This book was a disappointment. Sometimes it's hard to tell with philosophical biographies. They look appealing, suggesting promise - but oftentimes fail due to cheap literary gimicks. Upon reflecting, I can think of two things wrong with this book: its reductive, preliminary thesis and its reliance on kitschy marketing ploys.The book investigates the lives of Spinoza & Leibniz and attempts to make sense of the thinkers' intellectual relationship. The author, however, spends way too much ene [...]

    18. I bought this book because it was recommended in Alessandro Baricco's book reviews (/book/show/1). I cannot write a better review than Mr. Baricco, so if you want to know what makes this book attractive, read those three pages in that book.In November 1676 Leibniz and Spinoza met: this is the pivotal event in this book. What was the meeting like? What did they say to each other? Why are these two men with their theories about the existence of God so important for Western thought? It is commonly [...]

    19. At last, a book for all of us who have been long awaiting a work about the fateful 1676 meeting between Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz. I enjoyed this book. I know nothing about philosophy, unless by "philosophy" you mean the Packer's West Coast short passing game, but I enjoyed this book nonetheless. I fall short in sharing the author's almost carnal reverence for Spinoza, whose philosophy strikes me as remarkably turgid and who, I can't help think, really should have just been an atheist [...]

    20. You could call this book A Tale of Two Philosophers. Stewart as narrator relates to us the lives of Spinoza and Leibniz, their meeting in 1676 and Leibniz'z subsequent wrestling with Spinoza's philosophy and its implication on faith, religion, and the world at large in the years after Spinoza's death. Stewart relates the events in their lives in a very enjoyable manner largely through his switching between the lives of the two and the contrast that results. Spinoza is the excommunicated Jew who, [...]

    21. This book is the most engaging history-of-thought book I've ever seen and is fascinating on many levels. Reading it, I remembered how in Western Civ I looked at both of their metaphysical systems and all I could think of was "Why would anyone want to spend their time dreaming up stuff like that?" Stewart provides provocative answers. Despite dealing with abstractions like Leibniz' "monads," and Spinoza's "Substance" and immanent deity, he has managed to create a page-turner out of the story, as [...]


    23. Matthew Stewart has created an entertaining history of ideas with The Courtier and the Heretic. In it the author elegantly depicts the contrast between Baruch de Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, in both their lifestyles and their philosophies. He does so in an entertaining way and, while presenting a certain amount of speculation about the interaction between them, provides a lucid presentation of the portion of their lives and philosophies relevant to his project.Some of the details were [...]

    24. I loved this book, I was introduced to two pleasantly quirky characters, invited into their minds, lifes and times and it was delightful being in their company. I nibbled delicious Leibniz Cakes (named after the philosopher and from the city, in which he spent most of his time (although he didn't like Hannover too much), ate gruel a la Spinoza (gruel with raisins and butter) while being taught about the intricacies of 17th century philosophy and I simply enjoyed myself and had a great time, not [...]

    25. As we reflect on the lives of great composers, scientists, mathematicians, authors, etc, we more often than not use their names to make reference to certain big ideas and contributions with which they are associated. What is almost more fascinating is how those ideas were inspired at the intersection of their personal gifts, life experiences and conversations with allies and detractors ( who were sometimes one in the same person). Stewart captures extraordinary 17th century intellectual worlds i [...]

    26. No man can serve two masters, Jesus warned. As usual, he was right. And, as usual, this insight of his has been generally ignored. The Courtier and The Heretic tells the story of two men struggling to serve the two commanding spirits of their age, Reason and Religious Dogma. The men, Liebniz and Spinoza respectively, twisted themselves and their metaphysics into knots. Liebniz's windowless monads acting in uncoordinated but pre-existing harmony is a pretty silly concept, but that's what you get [...]

    27. The writing is very clear and direct, and paints a vivid portrayal of the Hague of the 17th century, along with portraits of Spinoza and Leobniz. Although somewhat brief and narrow, or perhaps too focused, I found the information regarding Spinoza especially thin. The author takes pains to set the stage for the great meeting of the minds when Leibniz travelled to the Hague to meet Spinoza in 1676, and then spends the bulk of the remainder of the book telling us how world-changing, and perhaps de [...]

    28. Competent.That's really the best thing that can be said about "Courtier." It covers the major players, summarizes the relevant historical events, and more than adequately compares and contrasts two of the greatest philosophers of the seventeenth century: Leibniz and Spinoza. In fact, what this book really feels like is a term paper. A well-documented, sincere, thorough and boring thesis drawn out into 300 pages. Stewart goes back and forth between the two philosophers, talks about their meeting, [...]

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